Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins
Prior to its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, The Skeleton Twins had been billed as a non-comedy starring Saturday Night Live vets Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as estranged siblings.
As it turns out, this description isn’t quite accurate. While the film is at times a very affecting and penetrating drama, it also contains as many genuine laughs as any “drama” in recent memory. Director Craig Johnson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Black Swan’s Mark Heyman, effortlessly balances the film’s tricky tone.
Hader is a revelation as Milo, a gay, depressed struggling actor and Wiig delivers perhaps her most impressive work as Maggie, a dental hygienist dissatisfied with her marriage to her uncomplicated husband (Luke Wilson, in a fine comic performance). The siblings live on opposite coasts but reconnect after a decade when both contemplate suicide on the same day.
The well-honed chemistry between Hader and Wiig comes to a head in what will likely become known as the film’s set piece—Hader’s epic lip-syncing performance set to Starship’s power ballad “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now” in an attempt to reaffirm the bond between the siblings.
Hader, however, wasn’t Johnson’s first choice to play Milo. “We were thinking about some people and I must say, Bill wasn’t on my initial radar,” the director revealed during the Q&A after the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January. Johnson said it was casting director Avy Kaufman who suggested the comic after she was impressed by a dramatic reading opposite Kate Winslet.
Johnson said he and Hader met at a bar for a drink and soon realized they were both big movie nerds. “We kind of geeked out a little talking about directors, and I kind of had this idea that Milo is a little bit more of a nerd,” he explained. “Then I thought, ‘We’ve found our nerd.’”